Multiple Factors Contribute to Development of Eating Disorders

Dieting is one possible reason for eating disorders, some people argue, because the disorders share dieting as a common thread. They think that if dieting didn’t exist, there would be far fewer eating disorders and propose that people wouldn’t get caught in the following cycle:

  • Severe calorie restrictions make them ravenously hungry.

  • They overeat in response to the unbearable hunger (bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder).

  • They panic about gaining weight, which brings them back to dieting and all the physical and psychological consequences that accompany food restriction.

Of course, not all dieters develop eating disorders. And many of the reasons that people develop eating disorders may have little to do with food or dieting.

  • Psychological factors: The label perfectionist describes many people with eating disorders. Some people with eating disorders try to take control of themselves and their lives by managing their food and their weight, which gives them a sense of accomplishment. In addition, they see everything as good or bad, black or white, fat or thin. And if thin is good, thinner is better. Dieting gives them the sense of self: “I am a successful dieter, therefore I matter. I diet, therefore I am.”

  • Biological factors: Genetics partially determines personality, and some personality types are more vulnerable to eating disorders. People who have low self-esteem and/or are socially anxious, value perfectionism, avoid conflict, and constantly seek approval from others are more likely to develop an eating disorder than are others who don’t possess these traits. Bulimia tends to run in families that have a higher incidence of mood disorders and substance abuse, especially alcohol, which also have genetic components.

  • Familial factors: The families of people with eating disorders often are overprotective and strict and have trouble resolving conflict. These families may value achievement and success and discount doubt and anxieties. Imperfections are criticized. These families may place a premium on physical appearance, making overt or teasing comments about someone’s shape and size. Though not genetically linked, 50 percent of bulimic sufferers have a history of early sexual abuse.

  • Social factors: Experts believe that culture influences the onset of an eating disorder. The public continues to believe that body weight and shape is determined by willful, conscious self-control.

    People graze, never actually sitting down to a meal. Instead of eating socially with friends and families, hectic schedules drive folks to eat alone. Society considers loss of control over eating to be morally wrong. Fat people are labeled as failures — lonely, weak, and stupid. And so the conflict of appetite versus control begins.

Web sites that promote and glamorize anorexia nervosa (known as pro-ana) or bulimia nervosa (code word: pro-mia) are proliferating and are popular among adolescents.: Instead of offering treatment options, pro-ana and pro-mia sites exist to pass along techniques and tips to encourage sufferers to “perfect” and perpetuate their diseases.

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